The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and what it means for Canadians

As the U.S. House Committee prepares for tomorrow's hearing on SOPA, a controversial bill that seeks to block websites accused of copyright infringement, there seems to be a general lack of understanding amongst internet users abroad.

And perhaps the tight-lipped coverage is to blame. This burgeoning story could be the largest Internet-themed news event since Y2K, yet the major media coverage on a bill that some believe has potential to "break the internet" has been scarce.

Should this bill pass, one of the most robust industries on the planet - as we know it - will cease to exist. Content for download will come under attack, users will tip-toe around restricted access and popular sites such as Reddit will struggle to survive - all because the entertainment industry seeks to pick up where the Napster lawsuits left off.

What is the Stop Online Piracy Act?

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee recognizes SOPA as bill H. R. 3261. It's designed to "expand the ability of the Department of Justice to fight online copyright infringement and counterfeit trafficking," according to Reddit, expanding on the the PROTECT IP Act of 2011 and the Commercial Felony Streaming Act of 2011.

Watch the video below for a crash course on SOPA:

What does this mean for Canadians?

SOPA is a burgeoning online disaster thinly veiled as an American issue, but the ramifications of such censorship will certainly stretch north of the border. Michael Geist of the Toronto Star reveals how the U.S. could claim Canadian domain names in the millions.

"First, it defines a 'domestic domain name' as a domain name 'that is registered or assigned by a domain name registrar, domain name registry, or other domain name registration authority, that is located within a judicial district of the United States,' explains Geist. "Since every dot-com, dot-net and dot-org domain is managed by a domain name registry in the U.S., the law effectively asserts jurisdiction over tens of millions of domain names regardless of where the registrant actually resides."

To put this in context, Canadian Internet providers rely on the Americas Registry for Internet Numbers, an U.S. allocation entity known as ARIN. Its territorial reach includes Canada, the U.S. and 20 Caribbean nations. Amending this bill will effectively treat all IP addresses within this reach as "domestic for U.S. law purposes."

Strong arguments against SOPA

Many who stand opposed to SOPA believe the language of the bill "demonstrates a lack of understanding of the way the internet functions and disregards fundamental technological principles of the internet," Reddit explains. SOPA has been dubbed the "Internet blacklist bill," potentially empowering the U.S. government with the ability to shut down any global website even if a single U.S. citizen were to visit that site.

One of the strongest arguments against SOPA takes aim at the bill's potential affect on the global economy. A study found that more than 80 per cent of 200 venture capitalists would be more likely to invest in today's internet regulations with a risky economy, than they would be in SOPA's regulated internet with an improved economy.

The video below highlights many strong arguments against SOPA:

Who stands against SOPA?

The list is incredibly large, but the big players include Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, eBay, Bloomberg, Reddit and Tumblr.

Click here for the complete list.

Strong arguments for SOPA

Supporters of the bill argue that countless jobs are threatened by rogue websites that thrive on copyright infringement. Perhaps there is no one better suited to defend the amendment of SOPA than committee chairman and Texas Republican, Lamar Smith.

"Rogue websites that steal and sell American innovations have operated with impunity. The online thieves who run these foreign websites are out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement agencies and profit from selling pirated goods without any legal consequences," explains Smith. "According to estimates, IP theft costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs."

Who stands for SOPA?

Again, the list is quite extensive, but let's see if you can spot the trend among the few below:

  • Motion Picture Association of America

  • Independent Film & Television Alliance

  • National Association of Theatre Owners

  • Deluxe Entertainment Services Group Inc.

  • National Music Publishers' Association

  • American Federation of Musicians

  • Directors Guild of America

  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters

  • Screen Actors Guild

  • National Cable & Telecommunications Association

That's right! Uncle Sam seems hell bent on reinvigorating its entertainment industry, and empowering the U.S. government with the ability to enforce a virtual stronghold throughout the internet may simply be an attempt to get you back to purchasing DVDs.

Tomorrow's hearing is unlikely to produce a verdict, but some have already begun preparing for the worst. Coders across the map are discovering workarounds that will allow them to circumvent SOPA's reach. Keep reading The Right Click for developments on SOPA as the hearings proceed.

Where do you stand, Yahoo! Canada readers? Let us know in the comments below.